Tag Archives: Star Trek

Honest Trailers – Star Trek: The Next Generation

Somehow I missed the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation last month.  But Honest Trailers was on the job.

I remain on the Kirk side of the debate.

The Influence of Star Trek

In a world where there was no Star Trek, what becomes of the post-Trek cultural artifacts that range from Galaxy Quest to The Big Bang Theory to catch phrases to television tropes to William Shatner doing Priceline.com commercials?  He’s not getting that gig because of T. J. Hooker or that one episode of The Twilight Zone.

What does the world look like without Star Trek’s influence?

I know, Star Trek feels dated.

The pilot for the original series was done and rejected before I was even born.  The series itself had run its three seasons and was cancelled before I even old enough to know it was a thing.

But then, somehow, it stayed alive.  It ran, and remained popular, in syndication for years and years.  I and millions of others watch those re-runs and the follow-on animated series.  Before Star Wars could have an expanded universe there was already a pile of Star Trek novels available.  There were models and costumes and board games and books just about the phenomena that was Star Trek.  There was even a store over at the San Antonio shopping center at one point called Starbase One or some such.  It sold other science fiction stuff.  You could find a battery powered Robby the Robot or a model of an Eagle from Space 1999 or a few Lost in Space related items, but most of the place was just stacked up with Star Trek related items.

There was a time when having a store dedicated to Star Trek seemed like a sound business decision.  And I used to just nerd out in there when I wasn’t over at the Hobby Shop.

I’ve even written about the first computer video game I ever played, which was, of course, Star Trek.

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek was a big freakin’ deal.  And it was cemented into my consciousness before Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica or Alien or any number of other science fiction franchises.

It wasn’t high art.  The original series could be groan inducingly bad at times.  The third season especially seemed to have trouble finding decent scripts.  And it hasn’t aged very well.  It feels awkward and self-conscious today.

But at the time it filled a need.  It was water on a desert.  It was optimistic and hopeful and showed us a future that looked pretty damn cool.  I wanted to be on the Enterprise, to be a part of that crew.

And the cornerstone of that crew was the half human, half Vulcan Mr. Spock.  I do not think Star Trek works without him and his exotic look and pointy ears and oddly compelling logical view of the universe.  Yes, sometimes emotion would win out, but only when it was logical for it to do so. No character so well defined the series (or was so completely abused in the subsequent flood of novels) than Mr. Spock.

I remember once, back in the early 90s, explaining to a co-worker about Star Trek.  She grew up overseas and emigrated to the United States as a graduate student and then stayed on, marrying a fellow immigrant and settling down in Silicon Valley.  She was (and remains) very smart and was interested in various cultural things.  One day we were giving the “Live Long and Prosper” sign in the lab and she wanted to know about it.

So I gave her a little background on Star Trek and then tried to help her get her hand to do the sign, which she couldn’t quite manage.  Then her husband showed up to pick her up on the way home from his job, and when he walked into the room I turned to him and gave him the sign… and he put his hand up and returned it, causing his wife to boggle in disbelief.  She practically shouted the question, “How do you know that?”  It was a beautiful moment.

Being able to do that was the universal nerd secret handshake and high sign at the time.  If you were in the club, you practiced making that sign until you could do it without hesitation.  And if you couldn’t do it, you weren’t in the goddam club.  But he was in the club.  We were all in the club around those parts.

Live long and prosper

Live long and prosper

I know that this is a bunch of silly, half thought through, semi-connected statements, but it represents the rush of emotion that ran through my brain when I read today that Leonard Nimoy had passed away at age 83.  He and his character were an unreasonably big part of my early life.

And I know he was more than just Mr. Spock, that he played more roles and had a wider range of interests and a life outside of all of that.

But Mr. Spock was important to us and he got that and he played the role long after many people would have tired of the whole thing because he got how important it was.  And through that he will have achieved a sort of immortality.  Mr. Spock lives on.

Picking My 15 Most Influential Games

Jackie at Kitty Kitty Boom Boom, prompted by lvling life, put up a list of her top 15 video games.

There was a methodology by which you were supposed to generate that list.  It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.  You were not supposed to spend a lot of time with it.  And, of course, I tossed that aside.  Rather than a quick list of 15 special games, I ended up with my list of the 15 most influential video games in my gaming career so far.

And what do I mean by “influential?”

I mean that they opened up new idea, new genres, or new points of view for me when it came to video games.

Influential does not mean that they were my favorites, the games I played the most in a given genre, or even all that good in a few cases.  So, for example, I have played a LOT more World of Warcraft than EverQuest at this point in my life, and I am not really all that keen to go back to EverQuest.  But EverQuest is the more influential of the two.  Without it, there would be no WoW, and without me playing it in 1999, I might not have made it to WoW.

Anyway, on to the list.

1. Star Trek (1971) – many platforms

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek in vt52

I have covered this as the first computer video game I ever played.  While incredibly simple, this game showed me the way, let me know that computers were going to be an entertainment device

2. Tank (1974) – Arcade

Tank!

Tank! In Black and white!

This was the game AFTER Pong.  Not that Pong was bad.  Pong was new and fresh when it came out, but I must admit that it did become a little dull after the first pass or two.  And then Tank showed us that man need not entertain himself with virtual paddles alone.  I wouldn’t touch Pong after a while, but Tank was always good.  You just needed somebody to play with.

3. Adventure (1979)  – Atari 2600

This Castle is Timeless!

This Castle is Timeless!

Yes, I got that Atari 2600 for Christmas way back when, but then there was a matter of what to play.  It came with the Combat cartridge, which included Tank.  And I also had Air-Sea Battle and a few others. But the problem was that these games were all unfulfilling unless played with two people.  And then came Adventure.  Not only wasn’t it the usual 27 minor variations on three two-player themes, it was specifically, unashamedly single player only.  Here, loner, good luck storming the castle!  And it had odd behaviors and minor flaws.  I tried putting that magic bridge everywhere and ended up in some strange places.  It also had a random mode, that might just set you up with an unwinnable scenario.  And there was an Easter egg in it.

It was both different and a harbinger of things to come.

4. Castle Wolfenstein (1981) – Apple II

Graphics - 1981

Graphics – 1981

This was the first game that I saw that indicated that I really, really needed to get a computer.  An Apple II specifically, because that was what Gary had.  And he also had Castle Wolfenstein.

It was not an easy game.  You lost.  A lot.  The control system left something to be desired.  You really needed a joystick to play.  And there were so many quirks and strange behaviors that somebody created a utility program a couple years after it came out that basically “fixed” a lot of the worst annoyances.  I bought it gladly.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

But this game was the prototype for many that followed.  You’re in a cell and you need to escape.  You need make your way through the castle, picking up guns, keys, ammunition, German uniforms, and grenades.   Oh, grenades were so much fun.  There were other, later games I considered for this list, but when I broke them down, I often found that Castle Wolfenstein had done it already, in its own primitive way.

5. Wizardry (1981) – Apple II

Apple ][+ The Upgrades Begin

Apple ][+ and Wizardry

Basically, the party based dungeon crawl in computer form.  Monsters, mazes, traps, treasure, combat, and death.  Oh, so much death.  NetHack was a potential for this list, but I realized that randomness and ASCII graphics aside, Wizardry had pretty much everything it did.

And I spent hours playing.  I mapped out the whole game on graph paper, including that one level with all the squares that would turn you around.  The one with the pits of insta-death.  It also taught me the word “apostate.”

6. Stellar Emperor (1985) – Apple II

The GEnie version of MegaWars III at its inception, it was my first foray into multiplayer online games.  I have written about the game, even about winning.

Emperor of the Galaxy

Emperor of the Galaxy

But it was the online, playing with other people, usually the same people, making friends and enemies and having ongoing relationships that sold the game.  Again, it was primitive, even in its day, with ASCII based terminal graphics.  But there was magic in the mixture.

7. Civilization (1991) – Mac/Windows

The flat world of original Civ

The flat world of original Civ

Sid Meier was already something of a star by the time Civilization came out, but this cemented things as far as I was concerned.  I was considering putting Civilization II on the list rather than this.  Once I got Civ II, I never went back and played the original.

But that wasn’t because the original was crap.  That was because the sequel built on what was great in the original.  It was purely an evolutionary move.  But it was the original that hooked me, so that has to get the nod for influential.

8. Marathon (1994) – Mac

Spooky

Spooky

For me, this was the defining first person shooter.  There was a single player campaign.  There was a multiplayer deathmatch mode.  There were a variety of weapons.  There was a map editor and some mods and an online community that built up around it.  Everything after Marathon was just an incremental improvement for me.

Marathon on my iPad

Marathon on my iPad

There have been better graphics, better rendering engines, different weapons, plenty of variety on arena options, all sorts of updates on match making and connectivity, but in the end those are just updates to what Marathon already did.  To this day, I still sometimes say “I’ll gather” when creating a game or match for other people to join.  That was the terminology from 1994.  I wonder what Bungie has done since this?

9. TacOps  (1994) – Mac/Windows

Before video games I played a lot of Avalon Hill war games.  Those sorts of games made the natural transition to the computer, which was ideal for handling much of the housekeeping chores.  However, in the transition, some old conventions got dragged along as well, like hexes.  And I hate hexes.  Yes, on a board game you need to use that hexgrid for movement.  I could accept that for Tobruk set up on the kitchen table.  But a computer was fully capable of handling movement without such an arbitrary overlay.  A couple of games tried it, but they tended to fall into the more arcade-ish vein, which wasn’t what I wanted.

And then I picked up a copy of TacOps.

Giving orders on an open map

Giving orders on an open map

I bought it on a complete whim, picking up the very rare initial boxed version off the shelf at ComputerWare before it went completely to online sales.  And it was a revelation.  Hey, terrain governs movement.  And cover.  And visibility.  That plus simultaneous movement phases rather than turn based combat meant wonderful chaos on the field.  The game was good enough that the military of several countries contracted for special versions of the game to use as a training tool.

I originally had Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin on my list.  That is where Battlefront.com really came into their own with the Combat Mission series.  But aside from 3D graphics, TacOps had done it all already.

10. TorilMUD (1993) – various platforms

Have I not written enough about the last 20 years of TorilMUDPrecursor to the MMORPG genre for me.  Without it I might not have understood that camping mobs for hours at a stretch was “fun.”

11. Diablo (1996) – Windows

A simpler time... in HELL

A simpler time… in HELL

I have written quite a bit about my fondness for Diablo II, while I haven’t gone back to play the original Diablo since the sequel came out.  But I wouldn’t be still talking about Diablo II or comparing the merits of Diablo III, Torchlight II, and Path of Exile had the original not been something very, very special.

12. Total Annihilation (1997) – Windows

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation was not the first RTS game I played.  I am pretty sure I played Dune II and Warcraft before it.  It is not the RTS game I have played the most.  I am sure I have more hours in both StarCraft and Age of Kings.  But it was the first RTS game that showed me that the genre could be about something more than a very specific winning build order.  All the units, on ground, in the air, on the water, were amazing.  The player maps were amazing, and player created AIs were even better.  The 3D terrain and line of sight and all that was wonderful.  And new units kept getting released.  And you could nuke things.  I still find the game amazing.

13. EverQuest (1999) – Windows

Fifteen years later and nothing has made my mouth hang open like it did on the first day I logged into Norrath.  I can grouse about SOE and the decisions they have made and the state of the genre, but that day back in 1999 sunk the hook into me good and hard and it hasn’t worked itself loose since.  Pretty much what this whole blog is about.

Froon!

Froon!

14. Pokemon Diamond (2006) – Nintendo DS

Before we got my daughter a DS lite and a copy of Pokemon Diamond, Pokemon was pretty much just a cartoon on TV and a card game somebody’s kid at work played.  Sure, I knew who Pikachu was, but I had no real clue about the video game.

And then in watching my daughter play, I had to have my own DS and copy of the game.  Make no mistake, despite its reputation as a kids game, Pokemon can be deep and satisfying.  It tickles any number of gamer needs.  My peak was in HeartGold/SoulSilver, where I finally caught them all.

Back when 493 was all

Back when 493 was all

While I have stopped playing, that doesn’t mean I don’t think about buying a 3DS XL and a copy of Pokemon X or Y and diving back into the game.  It is that good.

15. LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (2006) – many platforms

Filling this last slot… tough to do.  There are lots of potential games out there.  For example, I like tower defense games, but which one sold me on the idea?  But for a game that launched me into a lot of play time over a series of titles, I have to go with LEGO Star Wars II.

LEGO Star Wars II

LEGO Star Wars II

That is where Travelers Tales really hit their stride.  The original LEGO Star Wars tried to hard to be a serious and difficult game.  With this second entry, they realized the power of simply being fun and irreverent.  That was the magic.

And I only have to look at the shelf of console games we have to see that LEGO games dominate as a result of this one title. They have evolved, and in some ways I think they have lost a bit of their charm by trying to do too much.  We got the LEGO Movie Game for the PS3 and it didn’t have the joy of LEGO Star Wars II.  Still, 8 years down the road, the influence of LEGO Star Wars II got us to try it.

Fools Errand?

Of course, putting limits like an arbitrary number on a list like this means it must ring false in some way.  And what does influential really mean?  I know what I said, but I can look back at that list and nitpick that, say, Castle Wolfenstein might not belong.  And what about genres I missed, like tower defense?  I could make the case that Defense Grid: The Awakening belongs on the list.  What about games like EVE Online?  Actually, I explained that one away to myself, seeing EVE as sort of the bastard child of Stellar Emperor and EverQuest or some such.  And while TorilMUD is so powerful in my consciousness, would I have played it had it not been for Gemstone? Where does NBA Jams fit?  And what other Apple II games did I miss?  Should Ultima III be on there?  Lode Runner Karateka?

And somehow this all ties into my post about platforms and connectivity options I have had over the years.

Anyway, there is my list, and I stand firm behind it today.  Tomorrow I might change my mind.  You are welcome to consider this a meme and take up the challenge of figuring out your 15 most influential games.

Others who have attempted to pick their 15, each with their own history:

The First Computer Game I Ever Played

Not an arcade video game.  I think I played Pong first.

But an actual, sit down at the terminal, computer game.

It was Star Trek.

A friend’s dad had to go into the office one weekend and brought us along to show us the game that somebody had put on the accounting computer.  He left us to poke at it while he went off and did his work.  A clear waste of government resources back in an age when most people didn’t really know what a video game was, outside of Pong and Tank, and where the idea of a computer game probably would not have occurred to them.

It was a very simple game.  You were tasked to clear out the galaxy of hostile elements with a limited set of resources.

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek in vt52

It was a pivotal moment in my life.  We were entranced.

I am sure the fact that it was called Star Trek, and represented the Enterprise fighting Klingons helped.  Star Trek was a big deal at the time, which was at least a year before Star Wars.  Maybe two.  It also pre-dated my Atari 2600.

We had such a good time with the game that my friend and I ended up creating a board game version of it so we could play at home.  We were engrossed.  It was the first in a series of games we created by piecing together the mechanics we discovered from other games.  Our home version got more complex over time.

It also got us to go out with horded allowance money to buy games like Star Fleet Battles as time went on, both to play them and to see how they dealt with spaceship combat.  There was even a foray in to naval miniatures rules and the like.  It was a heady time.

Anyway, I bring this up because over at The Register, the have a short piece up about the history of the original Star Trek game as part of the Antique Code Show series.

Items from the Mail Bag – Back to School Edition

Time for the monthly look into what has found its way into the inbox of the blog email account that didn’t make it into any other posts.

Surprisingly, I did not get any offers from bots to write spam injected guest posts for the site, nor requests that I send people to read interesting articles not really related in any way to the site.  Instead, this was the take:

  • Zynga sent me a note to let me know they were having a back to school sale on in-game currency.  That one took a second to sink in before I went, “Ah, you think with the kids at school, mom can get back to FarmVille.” (Or is it PioneerVille these days?) That is probably a more canny viewpoint than I care to admit.  I keep thinking, “Who buys currency in these games?”  Then I look at Zynga’s valuation and have to admit it must be a lot of people.
  • 38 Studios and Big Huge Games sent me a notice about Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which just wouldn’t display correctly in Yahoo mail. But Yahoo mail just forced another update on me recently, so I have no idea who is at fault.  Anyway, the provided a link to view it elsewhere, and the key item for me is that it is shipping on February 7th of next year, and even that is just so I know when to look for other people to post about it.  I have no plans to buy.
  • EverdreamSoft dropped me a line to tell me they are going to release their iPhone game MOONGA on Facebook.  Of course they are.  Never heard of the game, and unless they have a plan it seems likely to sink from sight on Facebook in short order.  Or get knocked off by Zynga.  The game itself appears to be yet another trading card game, so it is probably not for me in any case.
  • Nexeon Technologies, which I initially guessed was some branch of Nexon (it isn’t), wants me to know about updates to their MMO, Face of Mankind.  My first thought was that this must be a new game, quickly followed by a second thought about how we seem to be running out of decent names for games.  But then I looked at the Wikipedia article and found that they chose this name quite a ways back and that it has been live in some form since 2006. (it is on the chart!)  I had never heard of it.  And that name… really?
  • Ibrahim, who operates the site in the UK called PictureOne, wants to do a link exchange.  That is so late 90s.  And I don’t do straight up link exchanges.  My blogroll policy is long, complex, and still incompletely formulated.  Blogrolls are complicated.   I am looking to get a first draft of the policy out in the next couple of years.  (Plus I notice that people view link exchanges as temporary, free to remove from their end once you link to them, like those sell-out bastards at MMO Crunch.  I pulled their link in turn, that’ll show them!) In fairness, at least his site does not appear to be infested with malware like an Italian site that sent me a similar message, and it appears to be about MMOs and gaming.  So good on you, Ibrahim.
  • Firefly Studios wanted to make sure I knew they were going to show Stronghold 3 and Gamescom.  If I read their press release, it differs from console games in that it is medieval based and voiced in bad Ren-Faire accents, though that last bit is just a guess.  Oh, and it is a Windows game, so I am not sure why they brought up consoles games in the first place.  Trying to inflame those PC vs. Console emotions no doubt.
  • Mike at MMO Raid wants a link (there, you got one… another one!) and to let me know I can submit my articles to his site, by which I previously thought he meant write for his site.  Instead he seems to be shooting for the aggregation site thing instead, which means submitting your articles to be listed there.  The site has had more than 900 articles submitted, though they appear to have mostly been submitted by Mike himself, so I would guess he is looking for a little help.    His site looks clean, only clips an excerpt, and directs people back to the original site for the full story, so I guess I can at least declare the site “not a bad thing.”
  • My mom wanted to let me know they are planning a Star Trek themed resort in Jordan.  I am sure that will keep people from overthrowing the king.  Not that King Abdullah II is in the class of, say, Asssad or Mubarak, but he is the richest guy in the country and he wants to spend a lot of money on his rather narrowly focused obsession, which is the sort of thing that might make the average crown subject a bit restive.   Still, live long and prosper, Abdullah II, and good luck on your quest.  (My mom actually sent this to the blog mail account through the form on the About page, so it counts.)
  • And, finally, Bronte wanted to let me know that his comments seem to be getting stuck in the spam filter.  Yeah, it was the spam filter… *whistle*

Google Books Ngram Viewer Fun

Google has a new… toy? erm…  research tool up.  I saw it mentioned on I, Cringley yesterday and played with it a bit last night.

It is the Google Labs – Books Ngram Viewer.

I’ll give you a moment to look up ngram.

Or I can try to explain it in a half-assed fashion

Essentially, Google has scanned in a large collection of books (something that has earned Google Books a good deal of grief) and this tool allows you to enter a word or phrase and see how often it comes up in the corpus they have scanned.

So you can chart the frequency of mention of, say, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

 

Britney vs. Christina

Fortunately, Britney is trending down of late.  Not that I care.  Neither get mentioned much in books I read.

But you can compare things and graph them, and that has super nerd appeal.

You do have to take care with the words, names, and phrases you use.  Madonna, for example, dwarfs the Britney and Christina, but the word “madonna” isn’t exclusive to the artist, so it is hard to tell how much of that is pop culture and how much religion.

And I had to come up with some topics closer to my own interests to graph.

 

Star Trek vs. Star Wars

Well, I guess that finishes off the Star Trek vs. Star Wars fight, though Star Wars seems to have peaked a while back. (About the time of Empire, if you want my opinion, but that is another topic.)

And the, a little closer to home.

 

Media for the New Century

Podcast, blog, website, and newsletter.  Blog has definitely been taking off.  Podcast gets less mention than I thought, but it does tend to be a transitory medium.  Who goes back and listens to old podcasts?  Besides me?  Do you hear that Van Hemlock?  Write more.

Of course, we can look at things that really matter.

 

Critical Technology Comparisons

Yes, online games, virtual worlds, Netscape, Compuserve, carbon paper, and mad cow disease.

You can see how those all fit together, right?

Virtual worlds is the clear winner, though it has dropped a bit of late.

Online games are on the rise.

Netscape and Compuserve are in decline for mentions in literature, as well they might be.

Carbon paper remains quite stable despite not being that widely used since the mass availability of the copy machine some 30 years back.

And mad cow disease is still more likely to get mentioned than any of these other than virtual worlds, though I am going to guess that there is some cross-over there between that and Second Life.

Then, of course, we can go to items of critical national importance.

 

Critical Societal Measures

Yes, the age old conflict between vampires, unicorns, werewolves and zombies.

It was a horn to fang race through most of the 20th century, with neither gaining dominance.  Then around 1980, vampires take off and never look back.  I’m going to credit/blame Anne Rice here.  Peter S. Beagle never had a chance.  Stephenie Meyer should send Anne Rice a Christmas card (or a Winter Solstice card maybe) every year thanking her for laying the groundwork of her success.

Meanwhile, zombies, which really had no standing for most of the last century, have really come into their own since 2000, passing unicorns, who have remained flat.  And even werewolves, sort of the odd-man out of the monster classes (Look, are you human or wolf? pick one already.) Threaten to surpass unicorns.

Of course, I am just searching through the full English corpus.  Switching to just American English looks about the same, with vampires just spiking even more drastically in the last 20 years.  But looking at the British English corpus and the results just get odd.

 

British Vampire Invasion

Vampires still rule, but they had a good run there in the 1970s as well.  What was going on in the UK then?  It can’t just be Margret Thatcher.  And what was going on around 1930 with Unicorns?

I think there might be a sample size issue.

If I switch to the Spanish corpus, well, zombies rule.

 

What is Spanish for "werewolf?"

But I didn’t bother to translate my search terms into Spanish, so who knows what that really means.

Anyway, that it Google’s new toy… erm… tool.

What other vital comparisons should we be doing?

Haunted by the Gorgon

Hail, hail, fire and snow,
call the angel, we will go,
far away, for to see,
friendly angel come to me

-Rhyme from the worst episode ever

There I was in another strange solar system checking on another Federation outpost.

Another planet to save!

There had been a distress signal.  Something strange was happening on the surface.  There was a request to beam down to the planet.

However, when I got there, this was the mission briefing.

I have, in a number of posts and comments, mentioned that one of my least favorite episodes of the original Star Trek series is And the Children Shall Lead.

There are other episodes I am not fond of… in fact, it can be a bit painful to go back and watch a lot of those old episodes… did TV get more sophisticated over the last 40 years?

Anyway, there is only one episode I actually call out for special negative attention, and that is the one.  A bad script, badly acted, with an annoying lawyer dressed up as a grotesque green-ish blancmange.

And so it was with some chagrin that I read this briefing which I immediately recognized as a nod to that very episode.

This put me in the mood to blow something up.  Any Gorgon, kid waving their fist, or over-weight lawyer I ran across was looking to get a grenade tossed their way just for openers.  And if you read that last line in the briefing, I seemed to have carte blanche to zero-out anybody who even looked at me cross-eyed.  The away team was ready.

Ready for action!

The first step on the mission was to get some more readings on these Gorgons, which meant running around the local area looking for that Star Trek Online “mission objective here” shiny effect.  We were going to find out what made them tick, all the better to put the hurt on them, or so I hoped.

Upon getting the last reading, the mission update came up.


Who? What? That was it?

You mean I don’t get to shoot the bloated, scarred visage of a Gorgon or any snot-nosed pre-teens?

After that I had to head over to Starbase 24 where one is guaranteed the option of blowing things up.

Nostalgia Proximity Alert! Collision Imminent!

Wihelm: Continuity One Two Three Abort Reminiscence!

Computer: Code invalid. Abort failed

Computer: Nostalgia field engaged

Computer: memory distortion set to random

Wilhelm: *scream*

So here we go.

Way back when I was a kid, back in a time between kindergarten and about third or fourth grade we, as kids, seemed to go through a stage where we ceased just playing with things and spent our recess and lunch hours playing at being things.

Looking back, it was very much a reflection of what was influencing us as kids… which is to say we played at things we saw on television.

Unlike my father in his day, we rarely ever played at being soldiers, at least at school.  He grew up in the shadow of WWII, which was viewed as a “good thing.”  For us, the Vietnam was on the news every night and it was a “bad thing.”  Many of our teachers actively discouraged anything that smacked of the military.

So we had to find other ways to dress up our desire to run around and pretend to shoot each other.

Cops and robbers was popular, primarily because it required little in the way of window dressing.  Some people were cops, some people were robbers, cops chased the robbers around, we had shoot outs, and argued about who shot whom first.  Generally the cops lost.  Authority figures were on the out, lawlessness reigned.  It was quite the exaggerated reflection of the country beyond the school yard.

We also played Planet of the Apes quite a bit.  This was not as popular because you had to conform at least minimally to the story line.  But it was an outlet for gun play and we did not care about the symbolism represented by the failure of man and the ascension of the apes.  We just wanted to pretend to shoot at each other.  Apes tended to lose and man usually reasserted his primacy.  In some way this probably predicted the election of Ronald Reagan.

And then, once in a while, we would play Star Trek.

Star Trek was different.  Not as many people would play, but girls would join in.  They wouldn’t play cops and robbers or Planet of the Apes, but a few would tag along for Star Trek.  So I knew there was something special going on, since the last time we played pretend with the girls was back before we decided playing house was for sissies.

And while we would cut to space battles and shooting phasers pretty quickly, the whole thing was different.  We would start out behind the backstop standing around as arrayed like the bridge crew.   We would crash around as the ship went into battle, then beam down to a planet or over to another ship looking for trouble.  Prime directive?  Our phasers were never set to “stun.”

But unlike the other two things we played, nobody was playing the bad guys.  This was a PvE roleplaying affair.  Nobody played a Klingon or a Romulan, they were all pretend.  When we shot, there was no follow on argument about who shot whom to break the flow of the story.

I should have written down the names of those who joined up on the bridge for these occasional play sessions, these pre-pubescent Trekkies, just to see who still feels the pull of that show to this day.

I don’t need to say that Star Trek was huge and had a lot of influence.  I think the fact that I can write about Star Trek without giving much in the way of context says enough.

But to be there, in the early 1970s, was to feel the influence when it was still young and fresh and still fit into its uniform and did not require a hair piece.  The original series was in syndicated reruns constantly throughout that decade. (Though at one point, every time I turned on the TV they seemed to be playing “And the Children Shall Lead,” an episode I grew to loathe.)

Star Trek lived on through some really bad episodes in the third season (see above), through cancellation, through an animated series, through some really weak movies and bad uniform choices, through a series of spin-offs (each with its own major flaws) and unlikely aliens, and through wave after wave of truly bad video games (with a rare gem now and again) to still exert influence today.

And I have pretty much eaten it up through most of its history.  I have watched all the shows, seen all the movies in the theater, read a disturbing number of the books, played the table top games, the role playing games, the MUDs, and a good portion of the computer games.  And after all of that, I still feel a great affinity for the universe of Star Trek.

Which is a blessing and a curse.

Star Trek again looms on the horizon for me.  Not a new TV series or a movie to stress my faith more than any midichlorian ever could.  No, it is a new computer game, a game with a lure unlike most that have come before it.

Star Trek Online.

Press Release Screen Shot - Your Game May Vary

A massively multiplayer version of the Star Trek universe.

Something within me sings with joy at the thought of a Star Trek MMO.  This is exactly what we were trying to achieve standing in a semi-circle out on the edge of the field at school way back in the day.

But part of me wants to look away.  That part shudders with the fear brought on by the dozens of mediocre TV episodes and poorly thought out games that came before.

According to the press release, Star Trek Online will be here soon.

ATARI TO SHIP STAR TREK ONLINE ON FEBRUARY 2, 2010

Star Trek Online Offers Fans and Gamers Opportunity to Experience Beloved Star Trek Universe through Space and Ground Gameplay

New York, NY (November 9, 2009) – Atari, Inc., one of the world’s most recognized videogame publishers, and Cryptic Studios™, creators of the acclaimed Champions Online, City of Heroes and City of Villains, announced today the highly anticipated Star Trek Online for PC is set to release on February 2, 2010 in North America and February 5, 2010 across Europe and Australia.  This first-of-a-kind massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) will offer space and ground gameplay to fans and players.

Star Trek Online is poised to become the ultimate Star Trek gaming experience,” said Jim Wilson, CEO of Atari, Inc. “Throughout the last four decades, Star Trek has been a mainstay in pop culture, influencing legions of fans through television, film, and more. Star Trek Online opens a whole new chapter and expands upon this incredible universe in 2010.”

Taking place in the year 2409, continuing the story of the latest film installment, Star Trek Online boasts extraordinary features and lets fans both new and old experience unparalleled adventures.  Players will have the opportunity to become a high ranking Starfleet officer and will participate in missions that will take them into the depths of space, across exotic planets and even inside other starships.  Star Trek Online offers total customization, where every ship players command can be customized, from color to construction. Additionally, anyone can create their own species in Star Trek Online, as well as customize the look of their avatar’s uniform.

For more information, please visit: www.startrekonline.com

February 2nd is sooner than I would have thought possible, which does not help me deal with the dread.

In an office just miles from where we played Star Trek as kids… and even closer to where I live today… a team at Cryptic Studios is preparing Star Trek Online.

Of course, just a couple of years back, the same game (or not the same game) was being developed by a team at Perpetual Entertainment just an hours drive from my home before it was cancelled, so salt is being consumed in quantities large enough to get a caution from my doctor when it comes to the eventual availability of the game.

Something about all of this playing out within proximity of my home makes it all the more compelling for no logical reason.

Not that it matters.  Logic is a pretty flower that smells bad.

I do not have much in the way of a choice when it comes to this.  I’ll be there on day one.  If they offer a lifetime subscription, I’ll buy it.  A collectors edition?  Let me get out my credit card.  Star Trek alien prostetics I can wear whilst I play?  Sign me up.

Press Release Screen Shot - Things May Never Be This Cool

So you know where I will be on February 2nd.  Prepared for disappointment but still full of hope.

Unless, of course, the whole thing gets delayed.

Nah… that never happens!

A Castle and a Dollhouse

After watching all of the series “Firefly” through NetFlix, my wife and I started looking for what the creator, Joss Whedon, and the cast members were going to do next.  We enjoyed the series enough to give them all a chance with whatever shows they came up with next.

This season we got our chance with two different shows.

The first was “Dollhouse,” which had Joss Whedon at the helm.  This looked to be very interesting.

The second was “Castle,” which had Nathan Fillion, the captain from “Firefly,” in the title role.  This show looked to be more than a bit contrived and I wasn’t convinced it was worth the effort, but there was Nathan Fillion, so it got a season pass on our Tivo along with “Dollhouse.”

“Dollhouse” started off strong, but started losing us after a couple of shows.

For me the show seemed to suffer from one of the classic “Star Trek” problems.

Back in the original “Star Trek” they introduced a lot of cool future technologies, key among them was the transporter.  Beam me up Scotty and all that.  It certainly saved us from a lot of “away team flies down to the planet in a shuttle” cut scenes.

On the other hand, it had the potential to eliminate a lot of common plot complications.  If anybody got in trouble, just beam them up, problem solved, and spend the remaining 40 minutes playing tri-dimensional chess or something.

So transporter technology had to be made quite fragile.  The transporters broke down a lot.  They were subject to interference from a seemingly endless variety of atmospheric and geologic conditions.  Advanced aliens could even divert and grab people from transporter beams, thus proving that they really needed a better encryption scheme.

But at least the transporters were part of the environment of the show, usually just tangential to the plot.

In “Dollhouse” we have the whole personality creation technology to make the “dolls” into whatever person they needed to be for a given assignment.  If it worked perfectly, the show might have been just a series of doll assignments with the occasional unexpected quirk in the personality mix along with the exploration of the morality of the whole thing.  The right team could make that interesting.

Instead the whole technology seems to be deeply flawed, the dolls crash and burn on a regular basis starting with the mysterious “Alpha,” leading to “what will go wrong next” being the major plot theme of the show, and an unsatisfying one for my wife and I.

Meanwhile the major antagonist for the Dollhouse is an FBI agent who is so discredited in his own agency and so owned and led around by the Dollhouse and its dolls that one wonders why he was even included.  Sure, they throw him a bone every so often, but he always ends up two steps back for every step forward.

And we really did not end up identifying or sympathizing with any of the main characters.

The dolls?  They made their deal with the devil, they’re getting paid, or so we hear. The Dollhouse might just put them in the wood chipper when they are done with them, and given how unreliable the technology they use is, that might not be the worst plan.  We got a glimpse of Sierra’s past, so maybe we should be sympathetic

The Dollhouse staff?  Topher is amusing but represents science gone awry.  Boyd seems strong and moral and we often see things through his eyes, but he is such a cog in the machine that he doesn’t change anything.  Plus he signed up with the Dollhouse, so he has his price. Ms. DeWitt and Mr. Dominic are the ruthless exploiters who will do whatever is necessary to protect the Dollhouse… or make a customer happy if the price is right.

Agent Ballard of the FBI?  He is incompetent and ineffectual and being led around by the nose.  He is surrounded by dolls by can’t seem to find them.

After two shows we were to the point of “give it another week and see if it gets better.”  After episode 8 (“Needs”) we canceled the season pass and gave up.  And, in a similar note, it appears the show itself may be getting canceled.

Meanwhile, our lesser choice, “Castle,” has turned out to be quite a gem.

Yes, it is completely contrived.

Richard Castle is a famous, rich, divorced, and spoiled crime novelist who lives in a New York apartment even bigger than you see in Woody Allen movies and who hangs out with James Patterson, Stephen J. Cannell and the mayor of city.  But when do we let that get in the way of a good story?  Who begrudges Bruce Wayne his riches?

Richard Castle gets some of the best dialog I have heard in a long time and Nathan Fillion is so totally believable in the role that you just have to give him a pass on the whole unlikely scenario of him being allowed to follow around a New York City murder detective for “research.”  His boyish charm, which works on almost everybody except detective Detective Beckett, and she is fighting it, makes you go along with the whole thing.

So “Castle” has become the must watch show in our house of late.  My wife can’t wait to watch on Tivo later, she has to watch it when it is aired, and now she has me up sitting through commercials, when I should be headed to bed, watching the show.

And rumor has it that “Dollhouse” is set to be cancelled.

Well, we own the “Firefly” DVD set now.  We can always go back and watch that.

Five LEGO Video Game Titles I Want

I have written about LEGO Star Wars, both The Original Trilogy and The Compete Saga, before. They are both games I like a quite a bit.

I really have to commend Traveller’s Tales, the studio that actually made the games, for not only creating a good first game, LEGO Star Wars – The Video Game, but also for actually learning from that game and applying it to the the next two games.

The first thing they learned seemed, to me, to be that a LEGO game is really more of a mass appeal title than a hard core gaming title. As such, it does not need hellishly hard end levels that take forever to master and complete. And with the original release, there were a couple of levels like that. I know real console gamers who still curse some levels in that game.

The second thing that TT seems to have learned is that, for adding depth and repeatability in a console game, almost nothing beats what I call “the cult of the unlock.”

So when the second game came out, LEGO Star Wars – The Original Trilogy, the levels were designed, overall, to be much easier to get through. You could… heck, *I* could… blaze through all of the basic levels in story mode in a single sitting without being in any danger of setting a record (personal or otherwise) for continuous time in front of a video game.

But when you’ve done that, the big “Percentage Complete” display (awesome game element, btw) says you have only completed 25-30% of the game. Then you want to go back through the levels with the free play option with different characters to pick up the mini-kits you missed, see the side areas you bypassed, and pick up enough studs to unlock all of the characters.

The game became an even bigger success than its predecessor and ensured that there would be more LEGO games to come. They have already announced LEGO Indiana Jones – The Video Game and LEGO Batman – The Video Game. So I started considering what else I would like to see done as a LEGO video game.

The Wants – I think they have potential to be good

1) LEGO Die Hard – The Full Series

When I get done playing LEGO Star Wars and go off to a different game, it takes a while for me to not want to blow up the scenery and try to collect studs. You just shoot up everything in LEGO Star Wars. So when my wife and I were watching the latest “Die Hard” movie, “Live Free, Die Hard, and Leave a Trail of Corpses” or whatever, I immediately connected the John McClane character leaving a swathe of destruction behind him with my own behavior in LEGO Star Wars. It is an excellent fit! Yes, work would have to done on the unlocks, but Bruce Willis is just begging to be made into a LEGO minifig. He has the head for it, and that scowl/smirk would translate perfectly into LEGO form.

2) LEGO Star Trek – The Original Series

Okay, this one is on my list for a series of selfish reasons. I want there to be a GOOD Star Trek game that has popular appeal, that will break the curse, and that will revive what I can only think of these days as a dying IP. Plus I want to be able to own Star Trek characters in LEGO minifigure form. It has to be TOS because they blow things up, transport into hot LZs, and visit the most interesting planets. There are enough characters to play and unlock. Yes, TNG does have Picard, who, like Bruce Willis, is ready-made for LEGO minifig form, and you could charge a billion studs to unlock Q, but Shatner’s hair was made for LEGO form. Picard can wait for the sequel.

3) LEGO Harry Potter – The Video Game

This one is a gimme. I mean, LEGO already has the franchise and already makes Harry Potter based minifigures and kits. There are movies out to help drive the visual requirements. It is popular. It is compelling. It could be done. And it would make J.K. Rowling just that much more wealthy than the Queen. I am surprised it hasn’t been announced already.

4) LEGO Lord of the Rings – The Video Game

It is episodic, it is popular, it would be great. It is probably a very tough IP to license… I am sure the Tolkien heirs would be skeptical… but it is totally viable. You have a group of main characters to play, a host of minor characters to unlock, and more than enough bad guys to chop up to make it interesting. Plus, TT could legitimately stretch it out into three releases. And, on top of that, LEGO has a couple of decades of work in its Castle line of kits as a starting place for models. (Frankly, though, the Castle line could use the sort of creative infusion such a project would bring. It has been languishing some for the last few years.)

5) LEGO Norrath – The Video Game

Okay, I am still enchanted by Tipa’s idea of turning EverQuest into a single player game to preserve the lore and let people who played it “way back when…” explore their old haunts. So why not take it a step further and reduce it all to LEGO bricks? There would have to be an overlying story created to drive the game, and the character unlocks might be a bit obscure, but I bet people who played it would come out knowing the lore of Norrath, which might, in turn, make some of them interested in other games based in Norrath. Plus I have always suspected that those trees in the Commonlands would break into a bunch of little pieces if you hit them just right.

Honorable Mentions – Things that came to mind with potential, but probably not enough for a game.

LEGO Discworld – Part of me thinks that LEGO is a perfect medium for expressing the humor and irony of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. The big problem is that nobody speaks in the LEGO games and much of the Discworld humor is in dialog or exposition. So any LEGO game relies on imagery and gesture to convey much of a story, and there is not enough such imagery available that we all share to make the game viable. I know what Ahnk-Morpork looks like in my mind, but it probably doesn’t look like that in your mind.

LEGO World of Shannara – I was trying to come up with an alternate fantasy epic to Lord of the Rings, and Shannara has plenty to work with. It just suffers from the lack of agreed upon visuals the way Discworld does, along with not being as popular as LotR.

LEGO Dune – I think this could be done. You use the imagery from the David Lynch version of the movie and just run with it. But as much as I want a LEGO Sardaukar minifig, I don’t think this would be a winner in the end.

LEGO Battlestar Glactica – I was looking around for another science fiction title, and this one came to mind. I am not sure if I would want to model the original series or the new one. I think then main problem is that most of the conflict takes place in space, and I found the space segements of LEGO Star Wars to be the least fulfilling.

Probably Bad Ideas – Things I briefly considered

LEGO The Simpsons – Hey, they’re yellow already, right? They’re popular. They destroy stuff regularly. The problem is, they can never profit from their bad behavior in the end, so having them pick up studs for whacking Flanders probably won’t fly.

LEGO Known Space – I was more thinking of LEGO Ringworld and felt that LEGO Man-Kzin Wars might have some potential… and I really want a Kzinti minifig… but Larry Niven’s Known Space universe moves at a pretty slow pace, so it would be hard for it to sustain an action oriented game. Plus, as above, there is not a set of agreed upon imagery for Known Space.

LEGO Blade Runner – It has the imagery. It has the violence. It is just probably too dark for LEGO. Still, it is probably more viable than my first thought, LEGO – The Man in the High Castle.

LEGO Forgotten Realms – I can dream, can’t I?

LEGO Wizard of Oz – I guess you cannot have Dorothy leaving a path of destruction behind her.

What Else?

That is my list… or my lists.

What did I overlook? What IP is really prime for conversion into a LEGO video game?